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The season of Beltane begins on the first day of May and continues through the middle of June in the Northern Hemisphere (October through December in the Southern Hemisphere) marking the cross-quarter or midpoint in the Sun's progress between Ostara (Spring Equinox) and Midsummer (Summer Solstice).

Joining and Growth

The beginning of May signals the start of warmer weather and the greening of the planet. Much of the focus of Beltane has to do with planting, growing and the fertility of the soil, animals and people.  The traditional "May Pole" has its origins in these ancient customs.  The pole itself is a fertility phallus while its ribbons of  two or more colors symbolize the joining of two disparate elements to become a third.  

Click Here to View Full SizeFor this reason, weaving and braiding of two distinct colors or textures is also a customary practice during the Beltane season.  Now is the time to be nice to neighbors, fix friendships and repair relationships.  Baked goods, woven crafts and intertwined wreaths or boughs made of two different materials may be given as symbolic tokens of joining together, love and community.

Protection and Purification

On the Wheel of the Year, Beltane is directly opposite from Samhain (Halloween).  During Beltane and Samhain, certain rituals and customs are observed protect people from any harm by otherworldly spirits, because the veil which separates the spirit world from our physical plane is believed to be at its thinnest at these two points each year. 

Large bonfires, music, drumming and dancing are traditional ways to ward off evil and celebrate. The name of the season can be traced to the ancient Gaelic word Mi Bhealtaine meaning "bright fire." In the modern Irish language, a derivative word is associated with the month of May.

Bale Fire Ritual

On the evening of April 30th, great bonfires are lit to signify purification, drive away evil and celebrate the transition into a new season.  Sometimes fragrant herbs or boughs of junipers are added to the fires to enhance the essence of purification.

The fire symbolically burns away impurities in the human spirit and the removes transgressions against one's neighbors. In one tradition, two great fires are placed opposite each other with a wide, safe path left between them.  As participants walk the path between the fires, they visualize all of their imperfections, wrongdoings and evil influences burning away leaving them free and pure when they emerge on the other side.  To ensure success of this purification, it is also necessary to forgive and forget the wrongdoings of others.Click Here to View Full Size

May Baskets and Wreaths

The May season finds many plants and trees in bloom, so it is customary to gather fresh flowers, boughs and berries to form decorative baskets and wreaths. Hawthorn and mountain ash trees have brightly colored berries and flowers and are traditional favorites.

May baskets filled with flowers or sweets are exchanged between neighbors and friends.  The wreaths and boughs are also exchanged and then hung on or above doors as amulets of protection for the entire season.  When June arrives, the Beltane decorations and amulets are laid on the Midsummer fire as a way of saying goodbye to the passing season.

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